SUV that fell in river belonged to missing OR family

Opelousas family loses home in early morning storms

A tragic break in the search for an Indian American family from Southern California, who went missing seven days ago as they returned home from a spring break vacation in OR, occurred April 12, as the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office announced it had found items believed to belong to the family.

Among the last communication with the Harts may have been a text message mother Sarah Hart, 38, sent two days before the crash, telling a friend she was feeling sick and would not be at work, said a spokeswoman for Clark County Regional Emergency Services.

The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and the California Highway Patrol have been working since last week to locate and recover the vehicle the family was traveling in that reportedly crashed into the Eel River on Friday afternoon at the height of last week's storm.

After a thorough search of the riverbanks on April 10 and 11, authorities have confirmed that vehicle did belong to the Thottapilly family.

The 911 call was at least the fourth report of suspected child abuse in the Hart family in the past seven years as the family moved between three states in a case that has raised red flags about the ability of authorities to track known offenders. A man whose daughter lived next door to a family killed when their SUV drove off a California cliff warned authorities four months earlier that the family's six adopted children were being "highly abused", according to a recording of the man's 911 call. Five bodies were found March 26 near Mendocino, a few days after Washington state authorities began investigating the Harts for possible child neglect, but three of their children were not immediately recovered from the scene along the shoreline.

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Investigators began to examine the possibility that the disappearance might be linked to a report that the highway patrol received on April 6 of a vehicle plummeting into the Eel River from US 101, a north-south highway that runs through Washington State, Oregon and California.

"The teams were unsuccessful in locating the vehicle or any occupants from the vehicle", Wunderlich wrote in his update. "These items were of a personal nature and will not be described further at this time, but it does confirm the fact the vehicle that was seen going into the river was that of the Thottapilly family".

On April 8, the relatives in San Jose contacted the police department and officially reported the family missing, telling the authorities that the family had been traveling from Portland. On their return on April 5, they spoke of plans to stop and visit relatives in San Jose the following day, the San Jose Police Department said in a statement.

Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj had on Wednesday had said that she was in touch with the Indian Consulate in San Francisco. The vehicle has been submerged in the water ever since, reported the CHP. They used an underwater probe to see if the vehicle or anything metallic could be located. "Rest assured. We will spare no effort", she said on Twitter.

Sandeep Thottapilly is a vice president at Union Bank in Los Angeles, Calif.

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